The Caribbean Defined

Our thoroughly opinionated guide to the five sexiest sporting islands.

    Photo: Index Stock/Timothy O'Keffe

Nevis: Uncrowded, Unhurried, Unsung

You have to force the action a bit on Nevis. Oh, there's everything to do—kayak, snorkel, dive, windsurf—that you'd expect on a lush volcanic knoll in the Caribbean Leewards, but there's no compulsion to do any of it. Why? With legends of sea beasts and fierce storms lingering in their collective unconscious, most Nevisians are happy to remain onshore. Which is why I felt perfectly authentic the day I toweled off from a morning's snorkel and spent a few hours in the tiny capital city of Charlestown eating fresh mangoes and watching the St. Kitts ferry come in, the disembarking passengers oblivious to the two large cows strolling through Memorial Square. You can, of course, thwart the prevailing don't-work-up-a-sweat landlubber mentality at any time and delve into the island's sugar-sand beaches, secret dive sites, far-out windsurfing, and goat-munched singletrack. And rest assured: Your hammock will still be empty at day's end.

The Sporting Life
Thirty-six-square-mile Nevis is content to doze beneath the tourist radar. Nevis Peak (3,232 feet) crowns the island—an ascent is a wet grunt, but worth the effort. Go with Linnell Liburd (Sunrise Tours, 869-469-2758) to avoid confusion amid a warren of routes. Nevis's heritage as a British colony of sugarcane plantations accounts for the grand-manors-turned-hostelries, as well as the network of abandoned roads made to order for fat-tire wanderers. "If you see a trail, follow it," is Winston Crooke's advice at Mountain Bike Nevis (869-469-9682). Winston also runs Windsurfing Nevis; sideshore winds at Oualie Beach make it an ideal novice's venue, but paddle beyond the placid bay and a funnel effect in the two-mile-wide channel between Nevis and St. Kitts creates bump-and-jump stuff not for the faint of heart. Ellis Chaderton runs Scuba Safaris (869-469-9518; www.divenevis.com), the island's only dive operation. He's charted 40 different sites, including a favorite called Booby High Shoals, where flotillas of nurse sharks and monstrous lobsters hang out. Two-tank dives cost $80.
The Beach
Oualie Beach, 250 yards of searing white sand, couldn't be better protected, with headlands at both ends, thousand-foot Round Hill just behind, and the mountainous east end of St. Kitts just across a channel. The water is 81 degrees and virtually all of the island's water-sports centers are here. For all that, Oualie is perennially serene.

After the Sun Goes Down
Make for Sunshine's, a sandy shack of dubious but unquestioned legality on Pinney's Beach that thumps nightly with reggae, blues, and jazz. The gregarious eponymous owner grills the catch of the day along with chicken and ribs, served up with a wicked concoction he calls the Killer Bee (rum being the killer ingredient).

Lay Your Sunburned Head At...
Why choose? Do surf and turf. Golden Rock Plantation Inn lies at the base of Nevis Peak about three miles inland from the windward beaches, at the cusp of the rainforest. Trails lead right out the door into the dense jungle. The stately manor has been converted into a dining room and lounge, and seven stone cottages, scattered about the ambling grounds, have ocean views and private terraces. Be sure to reserve the limestone sugar-mill tower containing an impossibly romantic circular suite. Doubles cost $140-$365 (869-469-3346; www.golden-rock.com). For surf, head to Oualie Beach Hotel, where 34 gingerbread cottages sit right on the beach. Each has a screened tile-floor terrace with chaise longues and a glorious view of the sunset over St. Kitts. Doubles range from $105-$345 (869-469-9735; www.oualie.com).

Très Nevis
Listening to LaRue the Parrot squawk, "Pretty bird, what a pretty bird," as you scarf your cornflakes on Golden Rock's breakfast terrace; joining a group of urchins playing broomstick cricket in the street; testing the mysterious "goatwater" appetizer at Cla Cha Del on Jones Bay while Pas the bartender Osterizes a mango colada.

The Price of Paradise
Nevis needs Lady Bird Johnson. The roads are lined with trash, much of it courtesy of the goats and wild donkeys that upend flimsy trash cans.

Resources: Nevis's New York tourism office: 800-582-6208; www.geographia.com/stkitts-nevis

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